Where is the line between procrastination and gathering inspiration?


When does checking Twitter or reading an article in The Atlantic cross the line from shame-worthy act of procrastination, into the defensible realm of a much-needed creative refresh? How long can you concentrate on a task before you take a break? Am I over thinking this?

I always assumed the latter, and didn’t give the topic of distraction-as-a-creative-refresh-tactic much thought.

But then I came across this article: The eternal struggle to balance creation and consumption by journalist and playwright Kara Cutruzzula. It’s essentially an explication of the weekly productivity reports she receives from RescueTime, a service that tracks your activities and assigns a productivity score to each. Checking LinkedIn or Slack hurts your score; writing in TextEdit or editing a spreadsheet improves it.

Kara describes RescueTime as an “infuriating and necessary tool for [her] creative life.” When her workweek is packed with deadlines and making stuff, she feels “drained, exhausted, and alive.” But when she procrastinates too much, she feels “stimulated, impatient, and deeply unfulfilled.”

I notice similar patterns with my work. But I’d add this: On days I get to do more than just writing (i.e. coding an email newsletter or brainstorming for a direct mail campaign), I’m much more likely to feel that *drained, exhausted, and alive” feeling. I think that’s part of the focus equation: when the tasks are considerably different, it’s easier to eschew procrastination.

The full article includes interviews with different creators. Check it out.

Photo by Flickr user Dickson Phua; used under Creative Commons.

Music, Creativity & Productivity

Does listening to headphones while writing/working/reading reduce productivity?

Let’s find out. If you’re not already listening to music, here’s a song I think you might like:

Apache Relay — “Good as Gold” {mp3}

For me, it depends on what I’m doing. For most things I find that it helps reduce the distraction of ambient noise and conversations. But I go back and forth. Because as focus-boosting as listening to music can be, sometimes those overheard conversations can spark new ideas.

Now Gregory Ciotti has added some much-needed science to the mix. Basically, listening to music while writing can be bad:

Since listening to words activates the language center of your brain, trying to engage in other language related tasks (like writing) would be akin to trying to hold a conversation while another person talks over you… while also strumming a guitar.

But it’s good on the assembly line.

And new music and minor chords may hamper concentration, but:

[m]usic with a dissonant tone was found to have no impact to productivity, while music in the major mode had different results: “Subjects hearing BGM (background music) achieved greater productivity when BGM was in the major mode.”

Check out the entire article {fast company} to find out when you should listen to classical music, sample playlists and more.

p.s. Apache Relay via {all songs considered}.

getting things done in the face of information overload

According to Getting Things Done founder David Allen, it’s not information overload {interview with david allen in the atlantic} that’s the issue, it’s the lack of ability to organize said streams of information that overwhelm us:

Information overload is not the issue. If it were, you’d walk into the library and die. As soon as you connected to the Web, you’d just explode.

In fact, the most information-rich place in the world is the most relaxing: it’s called nature. It has more varied horizons, more detail, more input of all sorts. As a matter of fact, if you want to go crazy, get rid of all your information: it’s called sensory deprivation. …

Not only that, but e-mail has a trait that fits the core of addictive behavior, which is random positive reinforcement.

{via andrew sullivan}.